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Time has raised these great interests, and it is the business of a statesman to move onwards with the new combinations which have grown around him. This, Sir, is the principle by which my feelings have been constantly regulated, during a long public life; and by which I shall continue to be governed, so long as I take any part in the public affairs of this country. It is well said, by the most poetical genius, perhaps, of our own times,
“ A thousand years scarce serve to form a State, –
An hour may lay it in the dust." This is the feeling which has regulated, which will continue to regulate, my conduct. I am no advocate for changes upon mere abstract theory. I know not, indeed, which is the greater folly, that of resisting all improvement, because improvement implies innovation, or that of referring everything to first principles, and to abstract doctrines. The business of the practical man is, to make himself acquainted with facts; to watch events; to understand the actual situation of affairs, and the course of time and circumstances, as bearing upon the present state of his own country and the world. These are the grounds by a reference to which his reason and judgment must be formed ; according to which, without losing sight of first principles, he must know how to apply them, and to temper their inflexibility. This is the task of practical legislation.
88. SATIRE ON THE PENSION SYSTEM, 1786. — Curran. ' John Philpot Curran was born in Newcastle, Ireland, July 24th, 1750. His Senatorial career was confined to the Irish Parliament, and was entirely eclipsed by his reputation at the bar. “There never lived a greater advocate," says Charles Phillips ; “certainly never one more suited to the country in which his lot was cast. His eloquence was copious, rapid and ornate, and his powers of mimicry beyond all description.” In his boyhood he had a confusion in his utterance, from which he was called by his school-fellows "stuttering Jack Curran."
He employed every means to correct his elocution, and render it perfect. “He accustomed himself,” says one of his biographers, “ to speak very slowly, to correct his precipitate utterance. He practised before a glass, to make his gestures graceful.' He spoke aloud the most celebrated orations. One piece, - the speech of Antony over the dead body of Cæsar, — he was never weary of repeating. This he recommended to his young friends at the bar, as a model of eloquence. And while he thus used art to smooth a channel for his thoughts to flow in, no man's eloquence ever issued more freshly and spontaneously from the heart. It was always the heart of the man that spoke." Under our Forensic department several choice specimens of Curran's speeches will be found. Curran died October 14th, 1817.
This polyglot of wealth, this museum of curiosities, the Pension List, embraces every link in the human chain, every description of men, women and children, from the exalted excellence of a Hawke or a Rodney, to the debased situation of the lady who humbleth herself that Bho may
be exalted. But the lessons it inculcates form its greatest perfection : It teacheth, that Sloth and Vice may eat that bread which Virtue and Honesty may starve for after they have earned it. It teaches the idle and dissolute to look up for that support which they are too proud to stoop and earn. It directs the minds of men to an entire reliance on the ruling Power of the State, who feeds the ravens of the Royal aviary, that cry continually for food. It teaches them to imitate those Saints on the Pension List, that are like the lilies of the
field ; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet are arrayed like Solomon in his glory. In fine, it teaches a lesson, which, indeed, they might have learned from Epictētus, that it is sometimes good not to be over-virtuous; it shows, that, in proportion as our distresses increase, the munificence of the Crown increases also ; in proportion as our clothes are rent, the royal mantle is extended over us.
Notwithstanding that the Pension List, like charity, covers a multitude of sins, give me leave to consider it as coming home to the members of this House ; — give me leave to say, that the Crown, in extending its charity, its liberality, its profusion, is laying a foundation for the independence of Parliament; for, hereafter, instead of orators or patriots accounting for their conduct to such mean and unworthy persons as freeholders, they will learn to despise them, and look to the first man in the State; and they will, by so doing, have this security for their independence, — that while any man in the Kingdom has a shilling, they will not want one !
89. REPLY TO THREATS OF VIOLENCE, 1790. - Curran. We have been told this night, in express words, that the man who dares to do his duty to his country in this House may expect to be attacked without these walls by the military gentlemen of the Castle. If the army had been directly or indirectly mentioned in the course of the debate, this extraordinary declaration might be attributable to the confusion of a mistaken charge, or an absurd vindication ; but, without connection with the subject, a new principle of government is advanced, and that is — the bayonet! And this is stated in the fullest house, and the most crowded audience, I ever saw. We are to be silenced by corruption within, or quelled by force of arms without. If the strength of numbers or corruption should fail against the cause of the public, it is to be backed by assassination.
Nor is it necessary that those avowed principles of bribery and arms should come from any high personal authority ; they have been delivered by the known retainers of Administration, in the face of that bench, and heard even without a murmur of dissent or disapprobation.
For my part, I do not know how it may be my destiny to fall; — it may bo by chance, or malady, or violence; but, should it be my
fate to perish the victim of a bold and honest discharge of my duty, I will not shun it. I will do that duty; and, if it should expose me to sink under the blow of the assassin, and become a victim to the public cause, the most sensible of my regrets would be, that on such an altar there should not be immolated a more illustrious sacrifice. As to myself, while I live, I shall despise the peril. I feel in my own spirit the safety of my honor, and in my own and the spirit of the People do I feel strength enough to hold that Administration, which can give a sanction to menaces like these, responsible for their consequences to the Nation and the individual.
90. AGAINST, RELIGIOUS DISTINCTIONS, 1796. — Curran. GENTLEMEN say the Catholics have got everything but seats in Parliament. Are we really afraid of giving them that privilege ? Are we seriously afraid that Catholic venality might pollute the immaculate integrity of the House of Commons ? — that a Catholic member would be more accessible to a promise, or a pension, or a bribe, than a Protestant ? Lay your hands upon your hearts, look in one another's faces, and say Yes, and I will vote against this amendment ! But is it the fact that they have everything? Is it the fact that they have the common benefit of the Constitution, or the common protection of the law ?
Another gentleman has said, the Catholics have got much, and ought to be content. Why have they got that much? Is it from the minister ? Is it from the Parliament, which threw their petition over its bar?
No, - they got it by the great revolution of human affairs; by the astonishing march of the human mind; a march that has collected too much momentum, in its advance, to be now stopped in its progress. The bark is still afloat ; it is freighted with the hopes and liberties of millions of men ; she is already under way; the rower may faint, or the wind may sleep, but, rely upon it, she has already acquired an energy of advancement that will support her course, and bring her to her destination ; rely upon it, whether much or little remains, it is now vain to withhold it; rely upon it, you may as well stamp your foot upon the earth, in order to prevent its revolution. You cannot stop it! You will only remain a silly gnomon upon its surface, to measure the rapidity of rotation, until you are forced round and buried in the shade of that body whose irresistible course you would endeavor to oppose !
91. FRUITS OF THE WAR WITH FRANCE. - George Canning. George Canning was born in London, on the 11th of April, 1770. He entered into public life the avowed pupil of Mr. Pitt, and made his maiden speech in Parliament, from which the following is an extract, in 1794. He was repeatedly a member of the Ministry, and became Premier shortly before his death, which occurred in 1827. Mr Canning meditated his speeches carefully, and they are models of Parliamentary style. “No English speaker,” says Sir James Mackintosh, “ used the keen and brilliant weapon of wit so long, so often, or so effectively, as Mr. Canning."
We have been told that this is a war into which we have been hurried by clamor and prejudice; in short, that it is a war of passion. An appeal is made to our prudence; and we are asked, with an air of triumph, what are we to get by this war ? Sir, that we have still a Government; that the functions of this House have not been usurped by a corresponding society, or a Scotch Convention ; that, instead of sitting in debate here, whether or not we shall subsidize the King of Sardinia, we are not rather employed in devising how to raise a forced loan for some proconsular deputy, whom the banditti of Paris might have sent to receive our contributions ; - Sir, that we sit here at all, these are the fruits of the war !
But, when neither our reason nor our prudence can be set against the war, an attempt is made to alarm our apprehensions. The French are stated to be an invincible People ; inflamed to a degree of madness with the holy enthusiasm of freedom, there is nothing that they cannot accomplish. I am as ready as any man to allow that the French are enthusiastically animated, be it how it may, to a state of absolute insanity. I desire no better proof of their being mad, than to see them hugging themselves in a system of slavery so gross and grinding as their present, and calling, at the same time, aloud upon all Europe, to admire and envy their freedom. But, before their plea of madness can be admitted as conclusive against our right to be at war with them, Gentlemen would do well to recollect that of madness there are several kinds. If theirs had been a harmless idiot lunacy, which had contented itself with playing its tricks and practising its fooleries at home, — with dressing up shameless women in oak-leaves, and inventing nick-names for the calendar, - I should have been far from desiring to interrupt their innocent amusements; we might have looked on with hearty contempt, indeed, but with a contempt not wholly unmixed with commiseration. But, if theirs be a madness of a different kind, -a moody, mischievous insanity, - if, not contented with tearing and wounding themselves, they proceed to exert their unnatural strength for the annoyance of their neighbors, — if, not satisfied with weaving straws and wearing fetters at home, they attempt to carry their systems and their slavery abroad, and to impose them on the Nations of Europe, — it becomes necessary, then, that those Nations should be roused to resistance. Such a disposition must, for the safety and peace of the world, be repelled ; and, if possible, be eradicated.
92. BANK-NOTES AND COIN, 1811. - George Canning. ARE bank-notes equivalent to the legal standard coin of the realm ? This is the question which divides and agitates the public opinion. Says the right honorable gentleman, “I will devise a mode of settling this question to the satisfaction of the public." By advising a proclamation ? No. By bringing a bill into Parliament? No. By proposing to declare the joint opinion of both Houses, or the separate opinion of one ? No. By what process, then? Why, simply by telling the disputants that they are, and have been all along, however unconsciously, agreed upon the subject of their variance; and gravely resolving for them, respectively, an unanimous opinion! This is the very judgment, I should imagine, which Milton ascribes to the venerable Anarch, whom he represents as adjusting the disputes of the conflicting element :
“Chaos umpire sits,
And by decision more embroils the fray.” “In public estimation," says the right honorable gentleman's Resolution, “ bank-notes and coin are equivaleut.” Indeed! What, then, is become of all those persons who, for the last six months, have been, by every outward and visible indication, evincing, maintaining, and inculcating an opinion diametrically opposite? Who wrote that multitude of pamphlets, with the recollection of which one's head is still dizzy? Does the honorable gentleman apprehend that his arguments must have wrought their conversion ?
When Bonaparte, not long ago, was desirous of reconciling the Nations under his dominion to the privations resulting from the exclusion of all colonial produce, he published an edict, which commenced in something like the following manner, — "Whereas, sugar made from beet-root, or the maple-tree, is infinitely preferable to that of the sugar-cane," — and he then proceeded to denounce penalties against those who should persist in the use of the inferior commodity. The denunciation might be more effectual than the right honorable gentleman's Resolution ; but the preamble did not go near so far; for, though it asserted the superiority of the maple and beet-root sugar, it rested that assertion merely on the authority of the State, and did not pretend to sanction it by “public estimation.”
When Galileo first promulgated the doctrine that the earth turned round the sun, and that the sun remained stationary in the centre of the universe, the holy fathers of the Inquisition took alarm at so daring an innovation, and forthwith declared the first of these propositions to be false and heretical, and the other to be erroneous in point of faith. The Holy Office“ pledged itself to believe” that the earth was stationary, and the sun movable. This pledge had little effect in changing the natural course of things; the sun and the earth continued, in spite of it, to preserve their accustomed relations to each other, just as the coin and the bank-note will, in spite of the right honorable gentleman's Resolution.
Let us leave the evil, if it must be so, to the chance of a gradual and noiseless correction. But let us not resolve, as law, what is an incorrect and imperfect exposition of the law. Let us not resolve, as fact, what is contradictory to universal experience. Let us not expose ourselves to ridicule by resolving, as the opinions of the People, opinions which the People do not, and which it is impossible they should, entertain.
93. AGAINST LORD JOHN RUSSELL'S MOTION, APRIL 26, 1822. - Id. THERE are wild theories abroad. I am not disposed to impute an ill motive to any man who entertains them. I will believe such a man to be as sincere in his conviction of the possibility of realizing bis notions of change, without risking the tranquillity of the country, as I am sincere in my belief of their impracticability, and of the tremendous danger of attempting to carry them into effect; but, for the sake of the world, as well as for our own safety, let us be cautious and firm. Other Nations, excited by the example of the liberty which this country has long possessed, have attempted to copy our Constitution ;